A $500 Hamburger

A friend takes me out for lunch…and I provide transportation.

I’m not blogging much about flying lately. That might be because I’m not doing much flying. Although cherry season rains kept me pretty busy the last week of June, dry weather leaves my helicopter idle. I don’t promote my charter or wine tour services during the summer because I’d hate to have to cancel a flight if the weather got iffy. Cherries always come first during cherry season.

But people do find me. I got a call on Saturday about doing a birthday flight on Sunday. They have a summer home at Crescent Bar and wanted to tour the river between the Gorge Amphitheater and Orondo. It was a nice day with no rain in the forecast, so I booked it for 11 AM.

Happy Passengers
I like happy passengers — and these folks were happy!

The passengers were lucky, although I don’t think they realized it. I have a 1-hour minimum for all of my charter flights and that’s what I charged them for. But I bet we were out for at least 15 minutes more. Not only did we tour the areas they wanted to see, but we happened to pass by the Appleyard just as one of the fire helicopters was descending to dip for the Skyline Drive fire. I maneuvered to stay out of his way, then turned so my passengers could watch him dip from the air. Cool.

Blustery's
Blustery’s. Drive-in or fly in. Whatever works.

Meanwhile, I figured that while I had the helicopter out and about, I might as well do a little pleasure flight. I’d called my friend Bob at about 10 AM and had asked him what he was doing for lunch. When he said he didn’t know, I told him I knew: he was buying me a burger at Blustery’s in Vantage and we’d go there by helicopter. He should meet me at the airport at 12:30 PM.

He arrived at 12:30 sharp, just as my passengers were driving off for the rest of their birthday activities. Because of the heat, I told him I wanted to take off my door and asked if he wanted his off, too. “Sure!” was his enthusiastic reply.

A short while later, we were taking off into the wind, then turning a right downwind to meet up with the river at Rock Island. Bob was loving the flight — he hadn’t been aboard a helicopter in years. We crossed over the power lines near the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee — the road to Palisades, as the locals refer to it — and dropped down lower over the river. The water was low because of the repairs in progress downriver at the Wanapum Dam. All of the river access had been closed between the Wanapum and Rock Island Dams and PUD security crews were patrolling by boat and jet ski. (Talk about a dream job: being paid to ride a jet ski up and down the Columbia River all day.) Of course, since we weren’t on the water surface or shore, it wasn’t closed to us. We got a good look at the land that’s usually under water, including formerly submerged roads, building foundations, and orchards.

We went all the way down to the dam and made a wide arc past it. Bob wanted to know if the folks on the ground could get in touch with me. I explained that they couldn’t without looking up my N-number, which is large enough to see from the ground. But we didn’t pose a security risk. We were flying too far from the dam and our pattern was clearly that of a tourist. Bob knew about a friend of mine who’d gotten in trouble with the NSA when he did a photo shoot over a train yard. I explained how our flight was different. Now if we’d been loitering without calling ahead — well that would have been a big mistake.

We headed up the west side of the river. I circled my intended landing zone — a large paved parking area on the southwest side of Blustery’s — and made my approach from the east. I touched down as gently as I could on the rough pavement, noting the slight slope. Only one or two people seemed to notice a helicopter landing back there — it really doesn’t make all that much noise when it’s on the ground idling. I gave it an extra minute to cool down — it was running very hot — and killed the engine.

I shot a quick photo before we went inside.

At Blustery's in Vantage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past or flown over this LZ before I finally landed here. It was perfect!

I’m not sure if the girls at the counter inside knew we’d arrived by helicopter. They had a drive-in window that faced it so they must have seen it out there. But they played it cool.

I ordered a burger and a shake. Bob ordered a chicken sandwich. We took a table by the window and spent an hour just eating and talking.

It was about 2 PM when we finally climbed back on board. I wasn’t in any hurry to get back, so we took a scenic route up Frenchman’s Coulee, past Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, over Quincy Lakes, past the Coluckum Ridge Golf course where two pilot friends are staying, past Beaumont Cellars, and over Crescent Bar. When I shot out over the Babcock Ridge, I think I spooked Bob a bit; he asked, “Don’t you feel it in your gut when the ground just falls away like that?” I told him I’d done it so many times that it didn’t bother me anymore.

I took a shortcut over the wheat fields to Lower Moses Coulee, where Bob and I had gone motorcycling on Friday. The road was straighter and flatter than where I usually like to ride, but it was a good outing together — a great way to learn more about the kind of riding he likes to do. (I’m wondering if he’ll be able to keep up with me on the twisties and hope to make a ride up the Entiat with him soon. My last riding companion there lost me after the first mile.)

I cut up Douglas Canyon, following the creek instead of the road up to Waterville. Once up on the plateau, I poked around, exploring deserted homestead sites and abandoned farm equipment from the air. Then I steered us over Badger Mountain. The earth fell away again when I came over the cliffs just 4 miles north of Wenatchee Airport and we started a 1300 feet per minute descent, keeping a sharp lookout for gliders.

We’d flown a total of 1.6 hours.

I really needed a fun day out in the helicopter — anything other than hovering over cherries trees for hours on end — and Bob enjoyed it, too. He was still talking about it today when I stopped by his place to pick up some tools he had for me. I really enjoy flying with a companion — especially one who appreciates the novelty of a fly-in lunch and exploring a well-known path from the air.

As for Blustery’s — well, just as I offered “The Hamburger in the Middle of Nowhere” when I lived in Arizona, I’m thinking of offering “The $500 Hamburger” here in Washington. I’m willing to bet the folks at Bustery’s will appreciate me dropping in again.

8 thoughts on “A $500 Hamburger

    • It was really nice to get out and have a little fun with the helicopter. The cost if the flight ate up all the profits from the flight before it, but sometimes I just have to treat myself.

  1. I’d definitely want to do that! sounds awesome.what happens if there are people in the parking area? i guess they realise you are going to land and keep out the way? or have you ever had a time when you can’t land because people won’t move safely away. great read though.

    • I won’t approach a landing zone that requires me to land close to people or cars unless I’m expected and there’s someone on the ground for crowd control. I very seldom even consider landing in a place where there might be lots of people. Most of my off-airport landing zones are in remote places. Often I land, get out, do my business, and then take off without anyone even knowing I arrived in a helicopter. It’s up to the pilot to act responsibly about landing zones. I blogged about an irresponsible pilot here: https://www.aneclecticmind.com/2012/10/29/one-pilots-stupidity-makes-us-all-look-bad/

What do you think?